Oxbridge History Interviews

If you are worried about your history interview read this blog. Here are some tips about the main bits of the interview that most people get stressed about.

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If you are worried about your history interview read this blog. Here are some tips about the main bits of the interview that most people get stressed about.

The interview is often the part of the application process that scares people the most. It is the first time you will meet the person who may be your tutor for the three years you are at university, and this person is a world expert in their chosen field. Of course it is intimidating! In this blog I have focused on three aspects of the history interview: the beginning; source analysis; and personal statement questions.

You will probably hear a few interview horror stories: the tutor who went to sleep during the interview, or the one who just sat in silence for twenty minutes. Whilst there may be the occasional quirky tutor, the vast majority are fully aware that it is a scary process, and the first few minutes will be spent putting you at ease. Questions such as “Why history?” are not there to catch you out. They are simple questions to relax you into the process, so don’t over-think them – just tell the truth.

A common part of the history interview is to do some source analysis. Often, the candidate will be given a picture or a short text extract before the interview. They will be asked to think about where it could be from, what it tells the historian, and why it might be important. This is not a test of accuracy – it is a test of analysis: are you the kind of person who can look for clues and draw good conclusions? If you are worried about this part of the interview, try and get some practice. You can choose anything from a Jane Austen novel to an Act of Parliament to analyse – in my history course at Oxford I have used both these sources and everything in between.

Having put you on the spot with a test of your analysis skills, your interviewer may also want to ask you questions about something you are familiar with. They will pick a topic that you mentioned in your personal statement and ask you why you are interested in that particular area of history, or  what you found challenging about it. Be prepared to discuss everything you put in your personal statement, and make sure you have read all the books you mention. Often students name-drop an author or a historical concept that they actually have no idea about – the tutors interviewing you will notice this very quickly!

Remember that different colleges will use different interview styles, so be prepared to face something new. The tutors want to get an idea of how you respond to something you have never seen before, so don’t worry if you come out of the interview feeling like you hadn’t prepared enough. That is often what the interviewers are aiming for.

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